Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Residence of Fear and of Trust

Where do people live when they are primarily driven by fear of other people?

Where do people live when they are primarily driven by trust in other people?

I am working on a new research project.  I have been wrestling with the core question.

Today, I think this is it.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Japanese Apology to Their WWII Sex Slaves.

Today's good thing:  the Japanese government apologized for making thousands of Korean women sex slaves during World War II, and agreed to pay a billion yen as compensation to the victims.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Great Thing in the World This Christmas: The Canadians Welcoming Syrian Refugees

The Canadian government has taken the lead in welcoming large numbers of Syrian refugees to the country.

Even better, though, thousands of Canadian citizens, often organizing through their churches, have gone above and beyond the government's legal permission to immigrate to help and support the tens of thousands of families fleeing a brutal war.

The West's best response to both brutal tyrannical states and brutal persecuting religious nationalists is this open-arms response to ordinary families.  This is a good work in itself, and our best "hearts and minds" strategy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mothers Are 10% More Likely to Work if Their Mother or Mother-in-Law Lives Nearby

The headline on the story is the half of American adults live within 18 miles of their parents.

In the college-educated class - roughly a quarter of the population - the distances typically get much greater, as the Gruntleds can attest.

Hidden in the report is this interesting additional fact:

labor force participation by married women with children increased by as much as 10 percentage points when they lived near their mothers or mothers-in-law

Professional men and women tend to go where the job is, regardless of family ties. However, professional women, if they have any choice in the matter, tend to try to live near their mothers. The help that grandparents give is especially important for emergencies, more than for daily care.

This is a good idea to bear in mind when professional and managerial couples are starting out: plan to live near backup care before you have kids, if at all possible.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Yay for Positive Criminology

Here is a happy new development on the way to a full-fledged positive sociology:  positive criminology.

This project comes from Bar Ilan University in Israel.  The epigraph of their webpage contains a fruitful theory of how all of positive sociology works:

Run to do even easy mitzvah and run away from any sins, for doing mitzvah leads to more mitzvah and sinning leads to further sinning.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Liberalizing Effect of Actually Reading the Bible

Christianity Today has a nifty study of the effects of Bible reading on people's political views.  This finding gives a taste of a range of their fascinating findings:

“Ask an evangelical who is politically conservative, has some college education, has an average level of income, is a biblical literalist, and does not read the Bible, and you’ll have only a 22 percent chance he or she will say reducing consumption is part of ethical living.

Ask the same person, only now they read the Bible, and you’ll have a 44 percent chance they’ll say so.”

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Republican Leadership Rejects Trump's Muslim Ban

Today's good news:  the entire Republican leadership has denounced Donald Trump's proposal to block Muslims from entering the country.

Even former Vice-President Dick Cheney called Trump's proposal un-American.

Perhaps, perhaps, the GOP has turned a corner back, slowly, in the direction of the center.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Calvinism and the Second Amendment

Calvinism sees the world ordered by the sovereign God, and disordered by human foolishness.

Yet Calvin was a protestant reformer - he protested against a disordered church, and enacted a wide-ranging reform in church and state.

For anyone who believes both in divine order and godly protest, there is a bit of a problem.  Calvinists can't be anarchists.  They cannot countenance resistance to duly constituted authority, in church or state, by mere personal judgment.

Calvin solved this by justifying reform, and even resistance, through the doctrine of the "lesser magistrate". Reform and resistance against the actions of the greater magistrate were only legitimate if conducted on behalf of the fundamental order of society and were supported by some lesser magistrate.

The American Founding Fathers were as influenced by Calvinism as they were by any secular Enlightenment theories.

Therefore I conclude that the Second Amendment could not have been intended to justify arming each citizen against the government.  The Founding Fathers were, indeed, revolutionaries against the duly constituted authority of the day.  But they were also lesser magistrates in their own right.  The well-regulated militia in which citizens have the right to bear arms is itself part of the government - not a justification for armed citizen anarchy.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Rising Death Rates Among Low-Status Whites is Due to Despair at Their Declining Privilege

Josh Marshall, of Talking Points Memo, has a good take on the important Cole-Deaton study on why death rates among less educated white people have been going up - while every other group is living longer.

The causes of death are self-inflicted:  suicide, booze, drugs, and sheer reckless living.

Marshall's educated guess is that the relative value of white privilege is declining, which leads some white people to despair that they are losing their place in society.  The anti-government Tea Party politics was rooted in this demographic group.  Today's even more aggressive white nativist populism  is almost entirely a movement of angry, low-status white people.  Marshall cites a re-study of Cole-Deaton which finds that this increasing death rate is most pronounced in the South, which makes sense as the place where low-status whites have lost the most relative privilege.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

... in a Well-Regulated Militia

That is the gun right protected in the Second Amendment.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Divorce Ideation is Common, But Most Couples Work it Out

Brad Wilcox' National Divorce Decision-Making Project found that most couples have thought about divorce in the early years, and a quarter have thought about it recently.

Nonetheless, most of them work it out because they want to work it out.  And they do it on their own, through patience, taking a broader perspective, and remembering their promises to one another and to their community.

"Divorce ideation" - a wonderful phrase, derived from "suicide ideation" - does not mean you are at high risk for divorce.  In fact, Wilcox and colleagues conclude, in our divorce-prone culture it would be hard not to think about divorce sometimes.

The good news is that most couples do work through these fleeting ideas.  And the great majority of them are happy they did.

Monday, November 30, 2015

In Praise of the Rat Squad

Professions must police themselves in order to remain ethical and effective.

Professions know best what bad actions to look for.

But it is very hard to police your friends and colleagues.  It is easy for us to understand our own kind, and thus make excuses. It is painful to punish the bad, and to lose the those who are sometimes good, or used to be good. And it is embarrassing to the profession to air dirty laundry.

Nonetheless, no one hates a bad cop more than a good cop.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Religious Nationalists, East and West, are Spoiling for a Fight

Nationalism is the modern version of tribalism.

Religion is our most powerful cultural tool to transcend tribalism.

But tribalism is powerful, and crafty.  It finds ways to co-opt every form of religion and cosmopolitan sentiment.

Thus, religious nationalism uses the terms and forms of universal religions to, ironically, support tribal conflicts.

Religious nationalists are usually kept in check by two unlikely allies: secular realists who oppose the utopian and apocalyptic excesses of nationalist religion; and truly religious people who oppose the parochial and violent excesses of nationalist cooptations of universal faiths.

But there is a cycle to human affairs.  New nationalist generations arise who "knew not Joseph," who forget why the last great war was so terrible.

I believe we are entering such a phase now.  Muslim religious nationalists, on one side, and Christian and Jewish religious nationalists, on the other, are spoiling for a fight.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Class Taste Reflects Our Conception of Happiness

We are now interviewing college graduates to see the connection between their tastes and their social class fraction. We started asking about why our subjects chose particular things or chose particular services. We soon realized though, that the more important question, the prior question, is to ask which choices seem like just utilitarian selection, and which choices involve a moral element.

I have over the past few years also been studying happiness, looking for what makes for a happy society.

I now see a point of convergence between these two lines of inquiry:  to ask people which of their choices seem to involve a moral element is to ask them their conception of the happy life.  In these questions, as we add them up, we are discovering (together with our subjects) their vision of eudaemonia - of a flourishing life.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Gov. Beshear Restores the Voting Rights of 180,000+ Nonviolent Felons in Kentucky

Kentucky is one of the few states that does not automatically restore voting rights to felons after they have completed their sentence.

Outgoing Governor Beshear, in a fine act of statesmanship, signed an executive order to restore voting rights to more than 180,000 nonviolent felons.

This is a good day for democracy.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Positive Civility Requires a Thick Skin

Here is a good centrist idea:

To take a positive step toward creating civility in society, be relentlessly reasonable.

Have a thick skin.

Don't get upset over potential problems.

Cut other people some slack when they are insensitive or thoughtless. (You undoubtedly need the same slack cut for you sometimes.)

Too often we think of civility as consisting of what we do not do - not being extreme, not getting worked up over minor issues, not calling names.

I offer this idea as something that centrists (or anyone interested in civility) can do to actively promote the happy society.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Millennials are the Most Willing to Use Government Censorship in a Good Cause. This is Still Wrong, But Teachable.

It is alarming that 40% of Millennials would be willing to have government prevent people from saying things that are offensive to minority groups.

Still, I see this as a vice of their virtues.  They are trying to overcome America's long history of racism.  The tool they have chosen - government censorship - is a cure worse than the disease, but they are trying to cure a disease.  Millennials are young, and famously less informed about history, including the historical use of government suppression of free speech to oppress minority groups.

I think most Millennials are not far from supporting other, less oppressive means of helping denigrated minorities. The traditional mechanism for opposing outright racists - public shaming - is effective and not as dangerous as government suppression.

For most people, though, the problem is not so much outright racism as it is insensitivity to unexamined denigration.  The cure for insensitivity is gentle consciousness raising.  And that applies to educating Millennials who are insensitive to the dangers of government censorship.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Only about Six Percent of the Electorate Supports Donald Trump

Donald Trump is the current front-runner among Republican presidential candidates.  Some take this to be a very scary sign about the tastes of the republic.

It is helpful to remember, therefore, that all that really means is that a quarter of Republicans favor him now, at this early stage.  And Republicans make up only a quarter of the electorate.  A quarter of a quarter is about six percent of the whole.

Moreover, unlike most of the other Republican (or Democratic) candidates, Trump has very high negatives.  Almost twice as many people have an unfavorable view of him as have a favorable view.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Presbyterians Have the Highest Level of Church Involvement Among Mainliners

The Pew Research Center has an interesting study of just how involved in church the members in different denominations are.

In general, evangelicals are twice as involved in their churches as mainliners - 41% "highly involved" for evangelicals on average, versus only 20% for the average mainline denomination.

Among mainline Protestant denominations, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) members show the highest level of involvement, with 31% highly involved.

Interestingly, that is about the same proportion highly involved in the evangelical Presbyterian Church of America.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Democracy is Winning in Burma/Myanmar

One of the best stories of the last couple of weeks is that Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won an overwhelming victory in elections to parliament, taking over 80% of the open seats.

The military junta still controls the government, will take months to actually relinquish the seats the NLD just won, and re-wrote the constitution to specifically bar "the Lady" from becoming president.

Moreover, the last time Suu Kyi's party won an election, the junta simply invalidated it and continued the dictatorship.  They put the leader of the opposition under years of house arrest.  The world noticed her continued civilized resistance, and gave her the Nobel Peace Prize.

I am very hopeful that this time we will see the junta finally start to let go.  Full democracy will come to Burma/Myanmar.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The First Step in the Fight Against Terrorism: Don't Be Terrified

The whole point of terrorism is to terrify reactive leaders into a brutal response.  This helps terrorists recruit more fighters. Every time we invade a country, we make more enemies.

This is why a measured, coordinated response, using diplomatic, economic, cultural, and (only at the end) military tools is the most effective thing to do, as well as the most ethical.

Reactive leaders will not be held back by a thoughtful consideration of what will really work.

Reactive leaders will only be held back if their domestic supporters would reject a brutal response.

Therefore, the most effective thing that ordinary people can do in the face of terror is not be terrified. Keeping calm and carrying on is the best resistance.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Hypothesis: Liberals Move to the Suburbs for For Safe Schools

A hypothesis for my new research on taste and class.

People who move to the bohemian or bobo (bourgeois bohemian) parts of the city when they first get out of college really like those places.  They are not afraid of the city. These areas are among the most liberal places in the country.  For themselves they are happy and enjoy the life and diversity of the city.

Kids, though, tend to make them more cautious.  They will only stay is they are confident they can find a safe way to raise their kids.  The educational level of the schooling matters, too, but is secondary.  The ethnic diversity of city schools is usually a plus for these families. They are proud when they can find safe diverse schools.

Safety is what the suburbs sell - even, for these families, at the cost of a terrible blandness and unreality.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Thriving Third vs. Everyone Else

I often distinguish between the "fortunate fifth" at the top of the social structure, and everyone else.  

My friend David Blankenhorn argues that the real divide in America is not between the 1% and the 99%, nor between the federal government and everyone else - the favorite division points of the left and the right, respectively.  Instead, he says the real divide is between the top 30% and everyone else.

The top group is likely to have a college education, stable jobs, stable marriages, and avoid self-destructive habits.

Statistically, one could argue well for either cut point.  The central issue is that a sizable minority are doing well, while those below live with increasing uncertainty.

From now on I will talk about the Thriving Third.  This is supportable empirically, and has the advantage of being more hopeful to those in the middle. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Racial Gap in Replying to Church Visitors - PCUSA MORE Likely to Respond to Black Visitors

An interesting study by my friend Brad Wright at the University of Connecticut sent emails to various churches posing as potential visitors to the congregation, using racially distinct names.

Overall, there was a small racial gap: whites were a little more likely to get a response than blacks,  Hispanics, or Asians.

Catholic and Evangelical churches responded to all races equally.  Mainline churches, on the whole, responded more to white inquirers.  Here are just the white and black response rates for the mainline Protestant churches:

ELCA (Lutherans)        75% to 52% [White to black]
United Methodist          66    to 46
Episcopal                      82    to 71
PCUSA (Presbyterian)  48   to 58

The report said there were not enough Presbyterians to do a separate analysis with statistical confidence, so we should take this anomaly with a grain of salt.

Still, the Presbyterians seem not to show a pro-white bias, and, if anything, have a pro-black bias.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Pregnancy-Related Deaths Cut Nearly in Half Since 1990 Worldwide

The World Health Organization said there has been a 44% drop in pregnancy-related deaths in the last 15 years.

East Asia has made the biggest progress, where maternal deaths dropped from 95 per 100,000 to only 27/100K.  Even sub-Saharan Africa, which has the highest rates of maternal deaths, cut their rates in half.

Reducing maternal mortality is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals adopted by most nations in 2000.  The WHO goal is get down to a worldwide rate of less than 70/100K by 2030.

Monday, November 09, 2015

In the Yale Halloween Costume Controversy, the Sociologists Are Right

There has been a peculiar controversy at Yale about Halloween costumes. Sociologist Nicholas Christakis and his wife Erika encouraged students who were offended by one another's costumes to 
look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society. 
Some students vehemently objected, calling for Christakis to step down as master of Silliman College. In a videotaped confrontation, a student contended to Christakis that  “In your position as master it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students who live in Silliman. ... It is not about creating an intellectual space! 

On the substance of the issue, I think the Christakises are entirely right.

I was struck by another feature.  Knowledge class homes try to be places of both comfort and intellectual engagement. Learning how to think critically is one of the aims of the homes of most professors. 

Sunday, November 08, 2015

"My Vote Doesn't Make a Difference" Misunderstands What Makes Democracy Work

People who don't vote in elections because "my vote doesn't make a difference" are committing an individualistic fallacy - one of the great errors that sociology was born to correct.

The great virtue of democracy is that no important issue is decided by just one person.  The collective wisdom corrects the various individual biases - and the broader the group that votes, the more this is so.

Sociology lets us see the big picture - and in the big picture, the individual choice not to vote makes things worse, when aggregated with the millions of other individualists making the same mistake.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

To Be a Sociologist, Firmly Grasp the Difference Between "Most" and "All"

For years I have told students what I call the Number One Rule of Sociology:

We make generalizations about groups which do not necessarily apply to each individual in the group.

Often people err in treating a true group generalization as if, to be true, it has to apply to each person in the group.  Since this is almost never the case, they dismiss the possibility of generalizing about groups at all.  Yet group generalizations are essential in dealing with a world of strangers.

Recently I thought up a shorter version of this rule, or perhaps it is the prerequisite to the Number One Rule.  To be a sociologist, you need a firm grasp on the difference between Most and All.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Brain Surgeons Don't Have to be Widely Informed

Ben Carson is a famous brain surgeon, but he has rather fanciful views (to put it nicely) about many other things. 

In response to the controversy over his belief that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain, a friend on Facebook asked if this meant that a once intelligent man was losing his mind.  I offered, respectfully, that surgeons are very well informed about one thing, but this is no guarantee that they are well informed, or even thoughtful, about anything else.

This prompted a respected brain scientist to offer a useful perspective:

Medical School and residencies (particularly the 6-7 years required for neurosurgery) are designed to build specific skill sets and a pretty focal knowledge base. They're generally the antithesis of the classic liberal arts arc. They don't encourage breadth. In fact, I'd say that neurosurgical training is likely to select for individuals who: 1) aren't deeply thoughtful--or even curious--about how the great, big world works, outside of neuroanatomy and its associated pathologies; and 2) are supremely confident and certain about what they do know (a necessity if one is going to cut into brain tissue). It's actually pretty easy to understand how, if anything, such training could reinforce the sort of willful ignorance expressed by Ben Carson. Contrary to the oddly popular stereotype, you don't need to be a super-genius with extraordinary powers of intellectual synthesis to be a neurosurgeon. In fact, such qualities would probably get in the way.